Photo via: CNN
The legendary Lee Elder began to break down barriers as a professional golfer back in the 1970’s and continues to do so today. The 84-year-old will now be honored by the United States Golf Association (USGA) with its highest honor, the Bob Jones Award. As the first African American to receive this award from USGA, Elder may now add this "first" to his already significant list of notable firsts in years past.
Born in Dallas, Texas, Elder was the youngest of 10 children. Tragedy struck his young life at the age of nine when his father was killed in World War II and three months later, his mother also passed away. The untimely situation also interrupted his school attendance as a home was being identified for him and his newly orphaned siblings. It was during this time that he began to work part time at a nearby golf course, which sparked his initial interest in the game. Not long after, he eventually moved to Los Angeles, California to live with an aunt. While there he began to caddy and also worked in golf pro shops.
Photo: Augusta National
By 1967, Elder was a competitive force dominating over opponents within the United Golf Association for African American golfers’ circuit. Also during that year, he qualified to compete for the first time in the Professional Golf Association’s (PGA) Tour. While his 1967 PGA matches may have been his first, they certainly weren’t his last. Elder went on to win four PGA Tour events and eight PGA Tour Championship titles.
After an impressive performance in 1974 at the Monsanto Open, Elder secured a spot to compete in the 1975 Masters Tournament. He became the first African American to compete in the major professional tournament and then in 1979 also became the first African American golfer to plan in the Ryder Cup Tournament.
"Lee's perseverance, positive attitude, and generous spirit personifies the ideals that the Bob Jones Award represents,” said USGA CEO Mike Davis in an interview with Golf Digest. “His grace and humility demonstrate his extraordinary character, and his work at the community level has paved the way for generations of future golfers. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to honor his incredible sportsmanship in the game.”
The Bob Jones Award is named for a noted golfer who was revered for his demonstration of remarkable character, sportsmanship, and respect for the game. The USGA chose to name their highest honor after Jones to recognize any golfer who embodied his spirit and attitude towards their fellow players and the game.
"It’s a great honor to receive this award and be recognized in the same vein as Mr. Jones, who did so much for golf, and many others that I’ve admired who have positively impacted the game," Elder said. “I felt that by setting the right example and serving as a mentor, I would have the ability to leave a lasting impression on people. Even if I could only reach a few of them, I wanted to give all youngsters a chance to learn the game and be a part of it."
The award is set to be presented to Elder on June 12, during the week of the 119th U.S. Open.